A Basic Last Will & Testament

By Jill Lewis

A last will and testament is a legal document that describes how you want to allocate your assets, property and belongings after your death. While the laws regarding last wills and testaments vary from state to state, reading up and following the laws of your state will ensure the validity of the documents. In general though, there are some basic requirements that govern the drafting of all last wills and testaments.


According to the Uniform Probate Code, which has been adopted by most states either in full or in part, any individual can make a last will and testament if he is over the age of 18 and of "sound mind." "Sound mind" means that the person making the will, called the "testator," must be able to understand the full meaning and effect of the document at the time of the signing.

Basic Requirements

In general, last wills and testaments must be written. Most people use typed or printed templates for their wills, but some states allow for handwritten or "holographic" wills if the document is signed by the testator and the material portions of the document are in the testator's handwriting.

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Basic provisions of a last will and testament should include the naming of an executor who will be responsible for executing the will, an alternate executor in case the first choice is unable or unwilling to carry out his duties, the wishes of the testator in regard to burial or cremation, specific bequests to heirs, and information regarding payment to creditors and any charitable donations. If necessary, a last will and testament could also include the naming of a guardian for any surviving children of the testator.

Signatures and Witnesses

Last wills and testaments must be signed by the testator and witnessed by at least two individuals; the requirements vary by state. Depending on the state and the form of the will, the document may also need to be notarized. Neither the notary nor any beneficiaries to the will should serve as witnesses to the will to avoid any implication of undue pressure or influence on the testator. Besides signing the will, which is required in every state, it is also a good practice for the testator to initial and date the bottom of every page of the document.

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Notarizing a Will in Texas



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What Is the Meaning of Last Will & Testament?

A last will and testament is a legal document that conveys the final wishes of a decedent for the administration and division of his estate after his passing. Wills are used to avoid state guidelines for intestate succession by providing instructions on how to carry out these wishes to the executor appointed by the decedent within the will. Historically, the distinction between “will” and “testament” was quite specific: the word “will” was used to when referring to the decedent’s real property, while “testament” conveyed the dispositions of his personal property. In modern times, the distinction is largely ignored, and the term “last will and testament” is merely used as a formal title for the legal document itself, which most now refer to simply as “will.”

Can a Person Write Their Own Will & Then Have It Notarized?

In this age of technology, writing out a will by hand may not be the norm, but it is a perfectly acceptable alternative to typed or printed wills. The key to making an effective handwritten will is knowing your state laws regarding whether witnesses are required and, if so, how many.

How to Execute a Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament is a document used to distribute the property after the property owner dies. The person who creates the will, known as the testator, must not only clearly state his intended distribution of property, he must also execute the will in legally valid form. Although exact procedures vary from state to state, common features are found in every state. Check the law of your state for exact procedures and have an attorney look over your will before you sign it.

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